Penny Red – Notes from the New Age of Dissent

February 16, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Laurie Penny is a journalist who has appeared at the right historical moment. She is young, full of justified anger and outrage, but with a language that is sharp, acerbic, informative and agitational. She has no intention of playing the ‘balance game.’ Her reporting is partisan, but immediate, honest, and as close to the battle lines as you can get. Since her blogs from the front line of the student demos in 2010 and her regular column in the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has becomes the unofficial voice of the recent youth rebellion and anti-capitalist protest movement. Her blogspot has the sub-heading: ‘Every human heart is a revolutionary cell,’ which characterises her motivation. Penny Red is a selection of her published blogs and articles. She makes excellent use of the new technological tools now available to journalists: tweeting minute by minute with the anti-cuts demonstrations while in New York; blogging regularly and appearing on BBC Newsnight, as well as speaking at campaigning events. She also writes, on occasion, for The Guardian and The Independent.

Laurie Penny was born in London and grew up in Brighton. She has written about her hospitalisation at seventeen for anorexia and of her subsequent recovery. She studied English at Oxford and graduated in 2007. While a student, she joined and performed in a burlesque troupe. This gave her first hand experience of what she regarded as the exploitation of women in this type of performance, despite some participants’ claims that it is a liberating ‘genuine art form’. This experience informs one of her essays in the book.

She began her career as a staff writer at One in Four magazine and then worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the socialist daily, Morning Star. She is also the author of Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism (Zero Books 2011). In it she mounts an attack on so-called ‘liberal feminism’, which sees embracing the consumer choice offered by capitalism as a path to female emancipation. In it she also examines the way the system uses and misuses women’s bodies to sell their products and how it controls and distorts how women see themselves, but above all, how men are persuaded to see them.

She writes with a visceral, often unrefined, but eloquent style, full of righteous indignation. She encapsulates the frustrations and anger of a generation abandoned by the political elite, those being forced to pay for the mess political leaders and bankers have created.

Her reporting from the thick of the student demonstrations of 2010 is reporting at its very best, conveying the fear, exhilaration and blow-by-blow chronology of events, while also reflecting on their significance. It is not the refined and honed journalism dispatched from the comfort of a newsroom or TV studio; it is raw and clearly experienced first-hand. In her writings, you are given the sense that she is there at the scene and amongst the people about whom she is reporting. She provides an antidotal and revelatory narrative to the ‘mindless thugs’ put-down of the mainstream media.

Penny is foremost a feminist and a number of articles in this book confront the commodification of sex in our society. Her aim is to demolish the idea of phenomena like burlesque and lap dancing as forms of empowerment. She argues forcefully that they only serve to objectivise and define women as sexual objects. She demonstrates time and again how capitalism warps the values and ethical base of our society. While her opinions are controversial, she delivers them with commitment, passion and palpable anger, all the while with an understanding of the pitfalls of our present society. Her succinct take on the infatuation with princesses and the adulation of Kate Middleton is exemplary and cuts through all the obsequious and fawning cant of most of the press: ‘She is the perfect modern-day princess,’ she writes, ‘in that she appears essentially void of personality, a dress-up dolly for the age of austerity.’

She describes herself, somewhat ironically, as a ‘journalist, author, feminist, socialist, utopian, general reprobate and troublemaker.’ She lives, she says, ‘in a little hovel room somewhere in London, mainly eating toast and trying to set the world to rights. Drinks too much tea. Has still not managed to quit smoking’.

Penny Red is an invaluable commentary on the current state of affairs. If Penny doesn’t get sucked into the circles of the comfortable commentariat, she promises to become one of the best journalists of this era, following in the footsteps of Louise Brooks, Martha Gelhorn, James Cameron and John Pilger.


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This post was written by John Green

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